The design student’s dilemma

[Hey students! is a multi-part series. Read the rest.]

It’s that time of year when students are looking for summer plans. Many agencies and design firms in town are accepting applications for internships, and students are applying (and the smartest students are applying at Oxide). For design students, it’s a great opportunity to put your skills to use in a professional environment, produce work for real clients, and gain valuable experience working within deadlines and budgets.

I don’t think it’s some big secret that design jobs are hard to come by. Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door, but a foot in the door doesn’t guarantee a future job. But, hey, students, don’t let despair wash over you. You have options!

Let me provide a little context that might help you figure out your options. I like using economic analogies. They help me make good decisions because economic analogies often lead to the best, most well-reasoned outcome.

The design student’s dilemma

Let’s call this the design student’s dilemma. There is too much supply and not enough demand. You are the supply, and design job security is the demand. For every entry-level design job, you are competing with possibly hundreds of applicants who have similar qualifications as you.

You may say to yourself, “I’m aware of that, but my portfolio is so good that it’ll put me at the top of the list.” This may be the most devastating part of the design student’s dilemma. Your work might be great, but it is diminished by the market forces outside of your control. You are, in essence, a commodity in a very competitive job market.

In this scenario, you might be tempted to sell your skills to the highest bidder, which may not be in your best interest. After all, you are not really a commodity; you are a complex individual with hopes and dreams, creative ambitions, and a set of skills. It may just take a little spirited resourcefulness to find where you can satiate your creative ambitions while adding value.

The design student’s solution

Let’s call this the design student’s solution. I think we can define the design student’s solution as a means of adding value where there is a deficit. This basically takes away the supply and demand imbalance without sacrificing your creative ambitions.

Where you decide to add value is completely up to you. This is where your spirited resourcefulness comes into play. It could be anything. A couple of examples come to mind:

You could take the time to learn how to code. One of my developer predecessors at Oxide wrote a great piece in this series addressing the designer-who-codes. You should check it out. It has many great nuggets of advice. My two pennies worth of advice on this: design and development share a lot of the same characteristics. Especially developing for the web. You will also find a lot of interesting and lucrative opportunities out there. Tech companies are sprouting up everywhere — even in little ol’ Omaha — and they are always looking for talented developers with an eye for design. And almost every design firm and ad agency has developers on staff.

My second example may seem a little out of the realm of possibility to most design students, but it really just takes some creative thinking and hard work. It may not be something you’ve ever thought about, but you should consider becoming an entrepreneur. This is sort of the perfect example of finding a place to add value where there is a deficit. I would think the most successful entrepreneurs would tell you that their success comes from developing an idea that solves a problem for people, adding value where there is a deficit.

Think about Uber. The founders of Uber saw that traditional taxi companies weren’t fully meeting the needs of their customers and found a way to do it better and cheaper. People can hail a ride from just about anywhere at just about any time with minimal waiting. Uber rides tend to be cheaper than traditional taxis and there’s no need to carry cash. For drivers, it’s an additional source of income with a low barrier of entry. You really just need a clean car and driving record to be a driver. And drivers choose when they want to work. This may not be an ideal solution for full-time drivers since it lacks protections of the traditional employee/employer relationship, but for a side gig it’s not too bad.

You can see how Uber solves problems. Your job as a designer is to solve problems. The goal of good design should always be to solve problems above all else. See how design and entrepreneurship are a good fit? You already have an entrepreneurial mind, but you just may not know it.

If you’re wondering how to get started bringing your entrepreneurial, problem-solving idea to life, there are countless resources and methods to help guide you. Over the past decade or so, there has been a sort of revolution in the way entrepreneurs and companies, large and small, bring ideas to life. It’s called the lean methodology. This methodology gives some structure to your idea, so you can spend more time focusing on the creative aspects of your idea while mitigating the risk of failure. I suggest you read The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries. It’s a great place to start and it opens up a whole new world of how to find success developing creative ideas. It’s kind of like applying the scientific method to your creative ambitions to help you find the best way to get started.

Just remember, if you are open to new things, there is an entire world of possibilities just sitting there waiting for you to take advantage of. If you have a hard time finding success in one thing, don’t fret. You have more options than you can probably even imagine.

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